Agrochemicals are toxic and when stored in bulk storage systems may pose significant environmental risks, particularly in the event of accidental spills. As a result, in many countries, the use of agrochemicals has become highly regulated and government-issued permits for purchase and use of approved agrichemicals may be required. Significant penalties can result from misuse, including improper storage resulting in chemical leaks, chemical leaching, and chemical spills. Wherever these chemicals are used, proper storage facilities and labeling; emergency cleanup equipment; emergency cleanup procedures; safety equipment; as well as safety procedures for handling, application, and disposal are often subject to mandatory standards and regulations.
While agrochemicals increase plant and animal crop production, they can also damage the environment. Excessive use of fertilizers has contaminated the purity of groundwater with nitrate, a chemical compound that in large concentrations is poisonous to humans and animals. In addition, the runoff (or leaching from the soil) of fertilizers into streams, lakes, and other surface waters can increase the growth of algae, which can also have an adverse impact on the life-cycle of fish and other aquatic animals.
Agrochemicals that are sprayed on entire Agricultural fields using equipment mounted on tractors, airplanes, or helicopters often drift away due to wind or air convection patterns from the targeted field, affecting the health of nearby plants and animals. The use of some older pesticides, such as the powerful insecticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), remain active in the environment for many years, contaminating and impacting health of wildlife, well water, food, and even humans with whom it comes in contact. Although many of these pesticides have been banned in India (data soon available), some newer pesticides still cause severe environmental damage.
History of Agrochemicals
Early humans are believed to have started agriculture around 9000 BCE. As the knowledge of chemistry grew, so did the use of chemicals in agriculture. Today, chemicals are used in agriculture for three main purposes: to increase farm production (fertilizers and related chemicals), to kill pests (pesticides), and to preserve farm products (preservatives). Unfortunately, all three classes of chemicals can cause serious poisoning in humans, mainly through improper labeling, storage, or use. Most poisonings with agrochemicals occur in predominantly agricultural economies where a lack of hygiene, information, or adequate control creates unsafe and dangerous working conditions. Cases of such poisonings also occur in small factories where pesticides are manufactured or formulated with little respect for safety requirements. Accidental poisonings may also take place at home when pesticides are mistaken for soft drinks or food products, and often the victims are curious children who can easily reach pesticides if they are not kept safely away from them. Then, there are the intentional poisonings, where compounds, such as phosphorus, arsenic, paraquat, organophosphates, and strychnine, are used as agents for suicidal or even homicidal purposes. This may happen because these chemicals are easily available, relatively cheap, and almost certainly cause death. Poisoning occurring as a result of improper use of chemicals used in agriculture has been termed “agrochemical poisoning.” Agrochemical poisoning remains one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality around the world today. Experience has shown that above the wide range of chemicals a vast majority of poisonings occur because of pesticides only. The 2002 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Center’s (AAPCC) Toxic Exposure Surveillance System listed a total of 2,380,028 human exposures to poisons occurring in the United States during the year 2002 alone. Out of these, there were 96,112 exposures to pesticides (4% of all exposures) and 10,632 exposures to fertilizers (0.5% of all exposures); a total of 18 fatalities caused by pesticides and one caused by fertilizers were reported.